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Israel-Iran crisis: Iranian cleric warns Israel against 'doing anything foolish' as France calls US sanctions 'unacceptable'

Military confrontation comes as Hamas' leader warns of mass breach of Israeli border fence

Samuel Osborne,Chris Stevenson
Friday 11 May 2018 11:14
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Syrian military video shows air defences trying to intercept Israeli missiles

The chief of the UN has called for an immediate halt to “all hostile acts” in the Middle East, a day after Israeli forces bombed Iranian military targets inside Syria.

Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, asked for the halt to avoid “a new conflagration” in the region following the most extensive military exchange between Israel and Iran.

Iranian senior cleric Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said during Friday prayers that Western pressure will backfire, threatening that Israel will pay the price.

"The holy system of Islamic Republic will step up its missile capabilities day by day so that Israel, this occupying regime, will become sleepless and the nightmare will constantly haunt it that if it does anything foolish, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground," the hardline cleric said. The worshippers chanted: "Death to America," and "Death to Israel".

Israel said the strikes were retaliation for an Iranian rocket barrage on its positions in the occupied Golan Heights. It was the most serious military confrontation between the two bitter rivals to date and risks direct clashes which could swiftly escalate.

It comes as Hamas' leader in the Gaza Strip hinted at the possibility thousands of Palestinians could breach the border fence with Israel during mass protests this week.

Britain supports Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian aggression, Theresa May, the prime minister, told her Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel said it had attacked nearly all of Iran’s military infrastructure in Syria on Thursday after Iranian forces fired rockets at Israeli-held territory for the first time.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which closely monitors the civil war through sources inside Syria, said 23 fighters, including five Syrian soldiers, were killed. It was not immediately clear if any Iranians were among the dead.

The confrontation came two days after Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw, with Israel’s encouragement, from a 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

The British statement said Ms May and Mr Netanyahu “agreed it was vital for the international community to continue working together to counter Iran’s destabilising regional activity, and for Russia to use its influence in Syria to prevent further Iranian attacks”.

The statement added that Ms May had “reiterated our position on the Iran nuclear deal, noting that we and our European partners remain firmly committed to ensuring the deal is upheld, as the best way of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon”.

The White House swiftly condemned Iran's "provocative rocket attacks from Syria against Israeli citizens" and expressed strong support for "Israel's right to act in self-defence," while Russia said the Israeli strikes marked a dangerous escalation and urged both Israel and Iran to avoid provoking each other.

In a statement, the White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, said "the Iranian regime's deployment into Syria of offensive rocket and missile systems aimed at Israel is an unacceptable and highly dangerous development for the entire Middle East."

Additional reporting by agencies

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Good morning, and welcome to our coverage of the escalating tensions in the Middle East between Israel and Iran. 

The UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, has urged an immediate halt to "all hostile acts" to avoid "a new conflagration" in the Middle East.

It comes after Israeli forces bombed Iranian targets inside Syria, in strikes Israel said were a retaliation for an Iranian rocket barrage on its positions in the occupied Golan Heights. 

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 08:06
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Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 08:15
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Israel's UN ambassador is calling on the UN Security Council and the secretary-general to immediately condemn Iran's missile attack and demand Tehran remove its military presence from Syria. 

Danny Danon said in letters to the council and the UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, that "the international community must not stand idly by while a tyrannical regime attacks a sovereign nation and continues to threaten the very existence of a member-state of the United Nations." 

Mr Danon said "Israel is not interested in escalation, but under no circumstances will we allow Iran to establish a military presence in Syria whose purpose is to attack Israel and to deteriorate an already fragile situation in the region." 

The Security Council, which is deeply divided over Syria, is highly unlikely to issue a statement and no council member has asked for a meeting on the missile attacks against Israel and Syria.

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 08:22
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The European Union called reports about Iranian strikes against Israeli army posts from inside Syria "extremely worrying" and said Israel had the right to defend itself.

It also called on all regional actors to show restraint and avoid any escalation.

"Reports about last night's Iranian attacks against Israeli army posts from inside Syria, to which Israel responded by striking against Iranian targets in Syria, are extremely worrying," said a spokeswoman for the bloc's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini.

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 08:30
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Iran supports Syria's right to defended itself against Israel's aggression, state TV reported, accusing the international community of remaining silent over Israel's attacks on Tehran's key regional ally.

"Iran strongly condemns ...[Israel's] attacks on Syria. The international community's silence encourages Israel's aggression. Syria has every right to defend itself," the broadcaster quoted a spokesman for the foreign ministry, Bahram Qasemi, as saying.

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 08:55
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Iran's state-run IRNA news agency is reporting that the country's Foreign Ministry has strongly condemned Israel's attack on Iranian targets inside Syria and called it a blatant violation of the country's sovereignty. 

In Iran's first official reaction to the attack, the report quotes a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, Bahram Ghasemi.

He said Israeli attacks on Syria under "fabricated and baseless excuses" is a breach of the national sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria. 

He added Syria has the right to defend itself "against the aggressors." 

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 09:07
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 France's finance minister has said European countries should push back harder against the Trump administration over the Iran nuclear deal and not act as "vassals" to the US.

Bruno Le Maire said on Europe-1 radio that Europe should not accept that the US is the "world's economic policeman."

He wants European companies to be able to continue trade with Iran despite Donald Trump's decision to re-impose sanctions. 

Mr Le Maire proposed creating a European body with the same kind of powers the US Justice Department has to punish foreign companies for their trade practices. 

Mr Trump said the 2015 nuclear deal that allowed for the lifting of sanctions wasn't tough enough on Iran.

European countries say the US president's decision will raise the risk of conflict in the region. 

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 09:23
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Syrian state media and a war monitor say opposition fighters and their families have left three southern suburbs of the capital Damascus, bringing the area under government control for the first time in years. 

State news agency SANA says opposition fighters who decided to stay in the suburbs of Babila, Beit Sahem and Yalda will hand over the weapons and return to normal life. 

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said a total of 8,400 fighters and civilians left the area since 3 May and the last group left Thursday night. 

SANA said police forces are getting ready to enter the area on Friday to guarantee security. 

The Observatory said Russian and Syrian police have already started entering the towns. 

Samuel Osborne11 May 2018 09:46

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